Set in the 1680s, in the early stages of the slave trade, A Mercy gives voice to numerous characters who, along with a 3rd person narrator, take turns narrating the physical and emotional struggles of their lives. The passage on page 52-53 allows the reader to grasp a deeper understanding of the puzzling human nature of the white man and of the human capacity to either nurture or degrade other human beings. Toni Morrison captures imagery, along with character emotions and observations, in her figurative yet simplistic writing style to elaborate a historically accurate account of how life was in the New World for every race.
On page 52 when the African blacksmith visits the Vaark household, Florens, a sixteen year old slave girl, holds “the milking stool with both hands as though to help gravity keep her earthbound”. When she learns from Mistress (the female head of the farm) that “Smithy” is a free man, her anxiety doubles. Florens marvels at the fact that he has “rights and privileges, like Sir, the white owner of the household. For example, “he could marry, own things, travel, and sell his own labor”. However, Morrison foreshadows that this love affair of Florens’ will not end well because “she should have seen the danger immediately because [the blacksmith’s] arrogance was clear”.
Morrison conveys how Africans were dehumanized and degraded during this slave age when the blacksmith looks directly at Mistress “never blinking those eyes slanted and yellow as a ram’s”. The limited 3rd person narrator explains that Lina, the Native American servant taken up under the Vaark’s, had never witnessed such a thing, indicating that Florens probably has never looked at Sir or Mistress in the eye either. To do so, Morrison says, would be a sign of “disrespect or a threat” and that kind of “boldness from any African was legitimate cause for a whip”. Morrison also comments on the contradictory nature of the White man because “Europes could calmly cut mothers down, blast old men in the face with muskets louder than moose calls, but were enraged if a not-Europe looked a Europe in the eye”. This portrays the immense capacity that humans have to love and hate. Morrison has, without a doubt, a critical tone towards the cruelty and irrationality of White man. However, her development of the character of Jacob Vaark indicates her optimism and belief of individuality. She says it is not healthy or right to stereotype individuals or judge from the exterior, although there is a propensity for it in human nature. Morrison believes that not all men are the same, for Jacob Vaark looks at Florens and all the other slaves on the D’Ortega plantation with dignity, respect, and not like “a piece of eight”. Overall, Toni Morrison prudently deems that it’s “best to judge them one at a time, proof being that one, at least, could become your friend” which is why Lina slept on the floor beside Mistress’ bed.
In conclusion, Morrison explores human nature in this newly discovered, untamed American wilderness by implementing the colorful voices of characters, vivid imagery, and figurative language.
Source: Toni Morrison. A Mercy. 2008.